The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Argument Primer

Sorry that I haven't posted more often. I have spent the last three weeks recording archaeological sites in central California, have been working on two papers for publication, and both to see friends and to celebrate my birthday, I spent the weekend in Santa Barbara with Kay. Needless to say, I have been rather busy.

But, I saw this and thought it was worth directing your attention. Skeptigirl has posted a primer for making arguments. I rather like it, and I think it's a good set of ground rules for discussion. I would add one thing, though.

Skeptigirl rightfully spends a fair amount of time pointing out that both arguers need to be able to state a clear position that they are trying to advance. However, it is equaly important that when someone argues against your position, that they actually argue against your position and not against a position that they are attributing to you. In truth, this would fall under the logical fallacies that Skeptigirl discusses, but it is common enough that I think it deserves specific mention.

For example - whenever I state that I think that supernatural claims (inclusing everything from astrology to ghosts to religion) should be just as subject to scrutiny and criticism as mundane non-supernatural claims, somebody starts claiming that I think that religious people should be stripped of their rights to speech, to raise their children, to worship, etc. etc. This is, of course, bullshit. I simply state that assertions made based on supernatural claims should not be privileged above other assertions, and that supernatural beliefs should not be exempted from the criticism that ALL beliefs are (or at least should be) subjected to.

To claim that I am in favor of stripping anyone of their rights is not only to claim that I am in favor of something that I am not in favor of, but to claim that I am in favor of something that I actually find to be abhorrent.

Likewise, when discussing the recent Proposition 8 with people, I routinely found that people were attributing all manner of beliefs to me that I do not hold and that were even antithetical to every belief that I do hold - including a commentor on this site claiming that I hold a position that I do not and that I believed that supporters of the proposition and religious organizations should be stripped of the right to free speech.

This strawman tactic is a comon one in debate, common enough that I think that it deserves special mention. The reason why it is used is obvious - sometimes the person useing it clearly believes that they are making a correct assertion despite the evidence to the contrary (such as, oh I don't know, the person with whom they are arguing never having made the claim in question). Other times, though, it is used to try to put someone on the defensive so that they are thrown off and are unable to make their arguments as effectively as they otherwise could.

Regardless, I like Skeptigirl's entry, and I recommend checking it out.

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